Social Media Follow Up Discussion

Posted on December 4, 2008 by Tony Uphoff

The recent post "Social Media Gets Down To Business" resulted in a ton of questions, feedback and commentary both on and off blog. Ironically most of the dialogue has taken place off blog. This may say something about how social media stimulates interaction that's not limited to online. On the other hand it may also suggest something about this blog! Either way I thought this discussion worth posting...

Q: How do you suggest setting up the leadership and management of social media?

Paul Chaney marketing director at bizzuka.com summarized the question posed by multiple people:

"Tony, you've just laid out, in nascent form, a social media strategy any company, large or small, could deploy. I herald all your points. They are well-taken.

One question. Do you feel a company should create a budget line-item to staff a social media management position? Or, should the marketing/pr departments simply adopt the use of these tactics and carry the burden to implement them across the entirety of the organization?

Again, great points. I'm blogging and tweeting this post".

A: Social media is a form of communication and as such should be a core competency of the communications and marketing department in any company. As for hiring a specific person to run social media, that's debatable. My personal philosophy is that hiring a single person to manage something that is experiential and participatory like social media is counter productive. My colleague Mitch Wagner had a great line about the emergence of the title "social networking director" in business; "Isn't that what Julie was in charge of on the love boat tv series?".

There are some technology, application, content and communication issues involved in social media that can be tricky. Having a lead person in marketing and PR that can drive the strategy certainly isn't a bad idea. Just don't call him or her "social networking director". Also make sure that in defining this role you aren't inadvertently suggesting to others that they don't need to actively embrace and leverage these tools. Reminds me of a boss I had several years ago who didn't read his own email....but I digress.

Q: How do you manage the communication with customers via social media?

A: This is one of the toughest issues. One thing we hear a lot in this web 2 world we live in; "uh oh. They're talking back to us. Now what do we do?". If you are getting questions, comments or requests directly from customers on your social media networks you have to respond. This is a communication and marketing issue. Having a clearly defined process to assure that specific questions, requests or issues are responded to quickly and then directed to the right person inside the company is key. As noted in the previous post, Dell has done a very good job of swarming the feedback they get via social media and responding appropriately. Would also suggest that having a series of web links to additional resources and information is also very helpful. We launched the site create your next customer to provide tools, research and resources for technology marketers and we regularly provide links to the site in our social media communication with customers.

Q: How do we assure that we won't damage our brand by getting involved in social media?

A: You can't. Anymore than you can assure that you won't suffer brand damage when a prospect or customer call isn't returned, or someone has a less than satisfying experience with your company or one of your employees doesn't present themselves well at a customer event. Social media drives transparency and authenticity. There are some obvious and inherent risks in this. From my perspective however, these risks are far outweighed by the increased connection, engagement and communication that the applications enable. Common sense is the best guide here. Be authentic. Stick with your brand truth and don't over promise in your approach.

Q: What advice would you give small companies?

A: Dive in. The vast majority of social media apps are intuitive to use and not that difficult to create and manage. In some respects you have it easier because your size allows you to be more agile and nimble. The advent of web based media is a great equalizer. Small companies can reach prospects and customers and engage with them as easily as large companies. Our site, bMighty; the technology site for growing companies, offers great, practical solutions for small to medium sized organizations on how to harness IT and the kind of social media applications we are talking about.

Q: Do you use social media for internal communication?

A: Yes. You will find very rapidly that you will be communicating better within your own company-regardless of size-than you did before by leveraging social media apps. At TechWeb we communicate internally using IM, Twitter - and other micro messaging platforms - Facebook and internal wikis, more than we do the company email system. We are increasingly leveraging social media applications to engage with and grow the audience of 13+ million business technology decision makers we serve. At the same time we are seeing these IT pro's accelerate their development of social media for both internal and external applications.

Q: How about the use of Blogs?

A: Would seem ironic if I suggested blogging wasn't a good idea huh? No need to confirm here what you already know; blogs have become a very powerful way to share content, communication and interaction on the web. At TechWeb we produce some 50+ blogs that serve our customers and are adding more all the time. We also encourage our folks outside of our content teams to blog, as a way to share ideas, insights and engage with their peers and colleagues. We have examples of sales reps who have started blogging about their markets, generated a following and we've put their blogs on content sites to provide additional insights. Blogging for a media company is not a reach though. A blog is the web 2 version of what a column used to be. Blogging should by now be natural for media companies. Outside of media however it's more complicated.

My friend and former colleague Joe Panettieri who writes a great blog @ Nine Lives Media offered an 11 and 12 to my original top 10 list, including the suggestion, "don't blog". I'm going on the assumption that he wasn't referring to me of course :). Here are his thoughts:

"Solid advice, Tony. Dell, Cisco and others are proving that Web 2.0 media can drive new business opportunities and customer/media education. But there are some lame efforts out there as well. Often, PR and marketing folks spend too much time polishing executive blogs, and the executive's personal voice gets lost or homogenized in the process.

Two key additional thoughts...

11. Don't reinvent the wheel: People don't have the time to join many outside networks, nor can they remember passwords, usernames, etc., for all those sites. Instead, launch mini-networks within existing social sites (FaceBook, LinkedIn) or quickly build a social network on an open, free platform (like Ning.com).

12. Don't Blog... : Many executives launch blogs that quickly die. The reason: They don't have the time or focus to update the blog at least three times per week. If you want to launch a blog, DON'T do it. Instead, keep a personal journal in MS Word or your preferred word processor. Do this for a month, and update the journal at least 3 times per week. At the end of the month, see if you still have the energy and focus to proceed with the blog. For 90% of readers, I bet the answer is "no."".

JP raises a good point with his "don't blog" statement. Blogging takes time. There is a reasonable frequency you need to achieve-and more importantly maintain-to serve your audience. If you establish an expectation with a group of customers or internal constituencies that you will blog with some level of frequency and you don't, it's worse than not having blogged to begin with. Again here though, I feel that the opportunity to connect with internal and external groups and engage is worth the effort. Now if I could only learn to write as well as my colleagues in content!,

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